Aug. 2, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - The Stanford women's soccer team became the first on campus to report, arriving on Tuesday for meetings, physicals and a team dinner.
Now, the work begins for the Cardinal as it seeks its first national championship and must do so without graduated national player of the year Christen Press.
Many of Stanford's local players, such as seniors Noyola (Palo Alto High) and Taylor (Castilleja-Palo Alto), and junior Lindsay Dickerson (St. Francis-Mountain View), have been on campus training for a while. But on Tuesday, they were joined by the rest of the squad, including six freshmen.
Stanford will begin training Wednesday with two-a-days -- at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. with the big picture in mind: a third consecutive conference title and fourth consecutive NCAA College Cup appearance.
But for the Cardinal to reach Kennesaw, Ga., for the College Cup, the season may hinge on the answers to these five questions:
1. Can Stanford get over the hump?
Stanford was No. 1 and undefeated in each of the past two regular seasons, only to suffer 1-0 losses to North Carolina (2009) and Notre Dame (2010) in College Cup finals.
Stanford outplayed every opponent over those two seasons with those two exceptions, and never had been shut out. Assuming the Cardinal has the talent to return, the real question is: Does it have the mentality to win?
If nothing else, Stanford has discovered that in these matches, skill may take a backseat to grinding, physical soccer. Can the Cardinal adjust, outwork, and outlast when the situation arises?
2. Where will Courtney Verloo play?
Verloo may be the Cardinal's best forward and best defender. A forward by trade, Verloo was switched to central defense, a position she never played at any level, when injuries left the Cardinal vulnerable. She more than held her own - earning third-team All-America honors.
If redshirt freshman Kendall Romine returns to form after missing the past two seasons because leg injuries, she could take the central defender spot alongside Alina Garciamendez, enabling Verloo to return to forward.
For those who witnessed her four goals in a 5-4 victory in the team's annual showdown with the football team, Verloo would be hard to keep off the front line. And, should the Cardinal risk weakening itself defensively by removing an All-American from a back four that otherwise remains intact?
3. Where will the goals come from?
The past two years featured two of the greatest individual scoring seasons in Stanford history, first by Kelley O'Hara (26 goals, 13 assists in 2009) and then by Christen Press (26 goals, 8 assists in 2010). Each player led the nation in scoring and won the Hermann Trophy, college soccer's top honor.
It would be too much to ask for another dominant scoring season by any individual, though Lindsay Taylor seems the most likely. The senior has scored 33 goals, ranking her ninth all-time at Stanford, and was a first-team All-America as a freshman when she scored 16.
Verloo also is a possibility, as is sophomore Sydney Payne, fresh from the U.S. under-20 national team camp. Also, incoming freshmen Alex Doll and Chioma Ubogagu could be impact players. And Noyola (10 goals, 12 assists in 2010), the team's creative midfielder, has pledged to assume more of the scoring load.
"Whoever ends up playing on the front line is going to have big shoes to fill," Noyola said. "But we have a lot of players that can step in and share in that role. It's a matter of coming together and getting the chemistry right."
4. Is Emily Oliver for real?
The goalkeeper wasn't tested often as a freshman last season, but Stanford realized what it had when Oliver made a series of stunning saves against Notre Dame in the NCAA final.
Oliver now enters camp as the incumbent and could threaten a variety of Nicole Barnhart's season and career records before she is done. Already, Oliver owns Stanford's freshman record for goals-against average (0.31), the second-best mark in school history behind Barnhart's 0.19 in 2002.
5. Will the World Cup help or hurt Stanford?
Noyola and Garciamendez played for Mexico in this summer's FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany, helping the tricolores to a pair of draws in three matches.
The experience of training and competing at the world's highest level has made them sharp. The potential downside would be fatigue, perhaps late in the season, after several months of high-level play, though keep in mind that Mexico's final match was July 5, allowing for a rest period before fall camp.
Noyola took the spring quarter off to prepare for the World Cup and did not participate in Stanford's spring season, while Garciamendez had limited participation because of national-team commitments. They may need time to acclimate back to Stanford soccer.
As for the World Cup, what carryover could there be for the collegiate season?
"Just the sense of urgency on the field," Garciamendez said. "Bringing that mentality of bringing you're A-game every single game."
Beginning with fitness testing Wednesday morning, Stanford will begin to discover some answers.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics